Assigning blame to forces beyond your control can make everything easier. Believing in an all-powerful, sinister cult controlling world events removes the onus of personal responsibility and creates a scapegoat, the defeat of which is imperative to save society.
A crashing economy? A global pandemic? It must be because of X. And historically, X has often meant the Jews.
In the early 20th century, the famed Russian forgery the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion warned against a vast Jewish conspiracy to subvert the economy, media, and government to facilitate a new world order under Jewish control. As Russian migrants spread across Europe and the United States following the Russian Revolution, they carried with them warnings of the Jewish cabal that had led the communist revolt, using the Protocols to support their claims. U.S. industrialist Henry Ford furthered the lies of the Protocols when he republished it in his newspaper, the Dearborn Independent.
Central to the Protocols is the idea of the Jew as the powerful puppet master and manipulator, which is rooted in the oldest examples of anti-Semitism. Jews were blamed for the death of Jesus. Medieval rulers blamed Jews for spreading the bubonic plague by poisoning the drinking wells of Europe. Jews were blamed for Russia’s communist revolution. The Jewish industrialists the Rothschilds were accused of manipulating knowledge of Napoleon’s defeat at the battle of Waterloo for personal gain. Later, the Rothschilds were also accused of starting or manipulating World War I and World II to enrich themselves.
Throughout history, Jews were portrayed as the shadowy villains responsible for orchestrating or manipulating the greatest catastrophes to befall humanity. Casting Jews as villains justified the pogroms, the mob attacks, the inquisitions, and the Holocaust—history’s greatest anti-Jewish crimes were framed as necessary to remove an evil influence within society.
Though the Protocols has been repeatedly confirmed as fraudulent, it continues to be repackaged and reinterpreted in contemporary contexts. Today, the core conspiracies illustrated in the Protocols have found new life on the Internet under the banner of QAnon, far-right conspiracy theories that allege an all-powerful cabal is manipulating world events. QAnon theories do not all specifically target Jews as responsible, but the script is virtually the same.
Much like Jews were blamed for poisoning the wells of medieval Europe to cause the Black Plague, QAnon followers pin the blame for the coronavirus pandemic on Bill Gates, 5G cell towers, and even vaccines. Various QAnon theories blame Gates for creating the virus, seeking to profit from a coronavirus cure, or potentially using a vaccine to implant controlling nanotechnology into people.
QAnon emerged in 2017 with claims of the existence of a Hillary Clinton sex tape. Spread quickly online, the posts snowballed into warnings of vast conspiracies centered around Bill and Hillary Clinton, their eponymous foundation, the Democratic Party, and liberal philanthropist George Soros; each was described as using their positions to traffic in pedophilia and act as international puppet masters. An anonymous individual identified only as Q claimed to be a U.S. government insider warning of a secret “deep state” run by an international pedophilia ring that controls global finances, media, the entertainment industry, the Catholic Church, and world governments. Q portrays Donald Trump as the only leader capable of defeating the influence of this secret society and thwarting its nefarious schemes. QAnon conspiracy theorists have since spread across social media platforms.
According to the New York Times, QAnon activity on social media has increased 200 to 300 percent since the start of the covid-19 pandemic in March. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Reddit have taken some action to remove QAnon accounts to stop the spread of misinformation, but more should be done as these conspiracies continue to be promoted online.
It is imperative that the Jewish community take a strong, public stand in repudiating QAnon. While QAnon theories may not be specifically targeting Jews yet, they mirror the pernicious tropes of secretive, manipulative cabals seeking global domination that anti-Semites have used against Jews for millennia. QAnon adherents pose as guardians against these insidious plots in order to shift public opinion. And as history has repeatedly shown, when mob mentality takes over, Jews eventually wind up as the target.
Josh Lipowsky of Bergen County is the senior research analyst of the Counter Extremism Project, a New York-based NGO combating global extremism. He is also a former assistant editor of the Jewish Standard.